Pollution week 4: Could we do something about Intellectual Ventures?

“But a normal company would never let a poo reference take pride of place on its patent document. For most healthy companies, patents are simply too serious a matter to allow sophomoric poo humor.”

Even if the previous parts of the Pollution week (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)  left a general sense of bewilderment, they don’t necessarily have to leave a sense of complete hopelessness.  Maybe the phenomena that were noted in Part 3 could be useful. Even if it’s not directly possible to fight trolls, it makes eminent sense to see what vulnerabilities they might have. This information might be useful to someone, somewhere.

The metadata of part 3 suggests that the inventors have been working in a “patent factory” mode, i.e. churning out applications for the purpose of churning out applications. This may have happened during one intense day, or during several workshops, or over a longer period of time.

It so happens that this mode is not completely unfamiliar to me.  This means that I may have insights into the weaknesses of this mode, which might be helpful should anyone ever wish to try to invalidate a patent of this type.


Note that these points are not in any way related to this particular ‘002 patent. The same kind of mechanisms seem to be operating in any number of cases, and the ideas here are fully applicable there as well.

The article in bizjournals.com is worth quoting again. “….Several times per year ISF brings together thought leaders across industry and academia for these day long, forward ideation discussions. At times, a specific innovation is created as a result of these sessions. When that happens, it is customary for the individuals who have contributed to the innovation to be credited if a patent application is filed.”“

This may well be “customary” at IV, but I do not believe I have seen such a cavalier attitude expressed elsewhere. The question of “who contributed” is actually a hotly contested issue. (See C.R. Bard v. W.L. Gore & Associates for an 800 million USD case that has lasted 38 years, and is about who should be credited as a co-inventor). Any incorrect names in the inventor list would certainly be interesting in litigation.

Also there seems to have been a long development time for these patents; the ‘002 seems to be a variant/extension of an original idea that was more closely related to personal health monitoring. There are certainly innocent explanations for this in the filing process (applications may have to be rewritten and so on). However, it does leave open the question of just *when* something was invented.

Specific possibilities:

  • Are they sure they have the right inventors? In principle, having even one name included incorrectly, or lacking just one name, could mean the patent (or at least some claims) are invalid. The Bizjournals article suggests that IV has a somewhat cavalier attitude toward this aspect.
  • If these were made at ideation discussions, where and when were they, and who took part? Were minutes taken? Who invented which claim?
  • In general, is all the paperwork in order? Has every inventor signed every piece of paper that needs to be signed? A group filing an application a week is bound to make careless mistakes at some point. Cases can be made or destroyed on small technicalities.
  • Are there any anomalies, such as people being on inventor lists when they did not attend a specific meeting at all?
  • Was everything in these patents really invented during one day long session? If so, why have there been so many additions and amendations throughout the years? Who has made the additions? Where are they documented?
  • If the additions the workshop results were considered just technical steps rather than new inventions, who made that evaluation?
  • Are these applications actually the result of multiple inventions? If so, who made them, and are they documented? What claims are owned by what inventor?



The ‘002 patent itself provides a somewhat appropriate note on which to end.  The first reference, in a prominent place, is the following:

Figure 1: First reference in ‘002 patent

 “Buchanan, Matt: “Twitter Toilet Tweets Your Poo”; Gizmodo.com; Bearing a data of May 18, 2009; Printed on Jul. 1, 2009; pp. 1-2; located at http://gizmodo.com/5259381/twitter-toilet-tweets-your-poo”

The reference does not seem to be cited in the actual document. It has a vague connection with the subject matter, but so could any number of articles,  so it is not really clear why it is here in the first place.

It is even less clear why it is here, in first place. The list is in no particular order, and there is for example Agger in the references, so it is not a question of Buchanan being the first in alphabetical order. Someone somewhere wanted a poo reference to be the first thing that hits the reader in the eye.

I would definitely have wanted done something like this in high school. Or university, for that matter. Or, come to think of it, even now. I’m childish. I would love to have to have a poo reference on a serious document like this.

But a normal company would never let a poo reference take pride of place on its patent document. For most healthy companies, patents are simply too serious a matter to allow sophomoric poo humor.

An attitude that is this cavalier toward inventor status and poo humor is a sign that something is just not quite working right. And that makes it increasingly probable that the company will make careless mistakes. A single comma in the wrong place can make all the difference.

What overall conclusions can we now draw from the exercise? (Subject of next posting).


5 thoughts on “Pollution week 4: Could we do something about Intellectual Ventures?”

  1. On the other hand, what did this say to the examiner? the article is still there and has 179 facebook likes, also Gawker media has a huge circulation for the Gizmodo website. so this reference although questionable is firmly in the public space, is that what was wanted?

    1. It’s impossible to really be sure why the reference is there, as it’s not referenced in the text (though technically it doesn’t have to be). There’s a vague connection with at least some of the 17+ applications in this family, so it’s probably a technically valid reference. What it does NOT have to be is the first reference on the first page. There’s a reference starting with A, so they weren’t using alphabetical order.

      What this basically says to me is that someone has been bored out if his wits. Might be the inventors, might be the patent attorney. This pops out right on the first page, so if anyone had been doing any quality checking, it would have been noticed. And in any healthy company, either the attorneys or the inventors would have exchanged it with something else. But of course, if you’re batch-inventing tens of thousands of applications, everyone just stops caring.

      It’s not the symptom that’s important here, it’s what it says about the underlying disease.

      1. Well its not the first time some thing slipped through the net and as you say if its a batch run job the likelihood increases that there are others to find too ;-)

          1. How long before Gawker media notice I wonder? when that happens it will go viral ;-)

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